It was obvious from the start Debra would become an artist. While the other girls in the neighborhood were playing with dolls, she could often be found quietly lying on the living room floor drawing a picture of something she had just found outdoors. The artist received her first set of soft pastels as a Christmas gift when only 5 years old. It didn’t take long for Debra to fall in love with the feel and the ability of the medium and its properties to adapt from the boldest of strokes to the finest of detail. Although the artist works in other media, including oil, acrylic, pen & ink, and graphite, her favorite medium is pastels.
Whether she is painting animals, landscapes, still lifes or figure, Debra is known for her ability to translate line and form to capture an expression or a moment in time. She is best known for her animal portraiture, which has earned her commissions and national recognition.
A graduate of Rocky Mountain School of Art, in Denver, Colorado, (now RMCAD) Debra spent the first 20 years of her career in graphic design, advertising, and technical illustration, but continued painting in her free time. A Michigan native, Ms. Van Leen traveled the country for education and employment, returning in 1989. Realizing that Michigan’s seasons, lakes, woods, and dunes were truly remarkable inspiration for artists, she once again made this state her home. Exploring these natural elements and bringing them to life with her paintings is one of the artist’s creative drives. Debra’s style could be called realistic, with a bend to impression. She enjoys creating paintings that look realistic from afar, but as the viewer comes closer they see the color and strokes that make the art.
Debra exhibits regularly in regional and national juried shows. Her work is in private and public collections around the world and can be purchased or commissioned online through her website. She offers a variety of workshops on basic pastel and painting animals with soft pastel. She has helped many artists discover the joys of painting with pastel.
Debra lives in Traverse City, Michigan with her husband and her fur and feather children.